THE culture and economy of the Scottish Borders has been dealt a devastating blow by the cancellation of all the historic Common Ridings in the area.

Some of the oldest equestrian festivals in the world, there are 15 Common Ridings in all, of which 11 are in the Scottish Borders area.

Cancellation became inevitable after Scottish Borders Council and Police Scotland said they could not support the events, some of which were due to start in early June.

The last to call off was the West Linton Whipman Play festival, which issued a statement yesterday.

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The committee said: “With the developing situation with Covid-19, the Whipman Play Society has made the decision to cancel Whipman Week 2020, which was scheduled to take place from Friday, June 5, to Saturday, June 13. This decision has been made following the latest Government guidance.

“While we are all disappointed, we as a committee believe this is the appropriate action to take to protect our community and visiting guests.

“All principals who were intended to take up their roles this year (Whipman, Whipman’s Lass, Presenting Lady, Barony Herald and Flower Girl) will now take up their roles in 2021.”

All five, including Whipman Gregor Brown and Whipman’s Lass Lucy Martin, were announced on Friday night when the introduction concert was cancelled and replaced by livestreaming on Facebook.

First to call off was Jedburgh’s Jethart Callant’s Festival, which was to be held in the first week of July.

Convener Robert MacDonald said: “While the traditions of our town are dear to our hearts, we must act responsibly and consider the health and wellbeing of our townsfolk. It may be that before the end of the year, as long as the crisis has passed, we will be able to come together as a community to mark festival 2020 in some small way.”

Lauder Common Riding is usually the last event to take place in the Borders, in the second week in August. It was cancelled on Monday.

Chairman Michael Middlemiss said: “Scottish Borders Council advised the committee that while decisions to hold events must always be the responsibility of the individual event organisers, at this time the council’s clear advice is that we should cancel.

“Lauder Common Riding’s committee first and foremost must ensure the safety of all those participating in its events. With the unanimous backing of the committee, and in the interests of the community, we have agreed that Lauder Common Riding 2020 cannot proceed under current conditions.

“We will not elect our cornet in May. It would be unfair on that individual, given events across the Borders will also be severely curtailed. It may be that, as long as the crisis has passed, that we will be able to come together as a community in some way to celebrate our ancient traditions. We remain fully committed to fulfilling our historical obligations of checking the burgh boundaries if and when circumstances permit.”

Scottish Borders Council said: “The Scottish Government has been clear that no events above 500 people should take place.The guidance on social distancing and virus spread are also very clear.

“Every event requires support from Police Scotland, the Scottish Ambulance Service, in some instances the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and ourselves. The resources of all these organisations must be entirely focused on addressing the challenges we face from Covid-19.

“If there are any opportunities to re-arrange events later in the year then we will seek to support organisers, but we will only be in a position to undertake such work once more normal working arrangements are possible.

“We fully understand that cancelling any event is a difficult decision and those who usually attend will be disappointed.

“However, we are confident it will be possible to bring back the wide range of events, festivals and Common Ridings that are such an iconic part of the Scottish Borders in the future.”